An appreciation for the natural world is grounded in understanding, compassion, connection, communication, and feeling—the “five cornerstones of love,” as defined by modern psychology. Doctors, scientists, philosophers, poets, and the people we are closest to will tell you that love is vital to our way of life. Humans are social creatures.
It is also the key to living sustainably or in sync with your environment. By cultivating attachments to an understanding of the natural world around us, we engender positive and pro-social thoughts and behaviors in ourselves. We get into action when we care, doing things like volunteering in our communities, and donating to organizations we believe in.
Learning about the “five cornerstones of love” below can shed light on why living sustainably is important to human health and well-being. The sense of connection we feel to our environment is a part of our biology.
- The capacity for feeling. Each of us is given the biosocial and psychological capacity to feel for others, our natural world, and other species. This capacity for feeling originates deep in the emotional centers of our brain, part of what neuropsychologists refer to as the limbic center. It was formed early over millions of years of human evolution.
- The ability to interrelate with all species and each other, starting with the relationship between our mothers and/or our caregivers and ourselves. There is little possibility of human survival without being touched, coddled, and told that you are loved. This is replicated throughout nature, even if the means of communication are different than our own. Animals and trees each have their own means of communication, their own language.
- The ability to make a sustained attachment to living beings, requiring being present, intimate, and vulnerable. Healthy attachments in infancy and childhood are the key to our ability to relate with others and express genuine love.
- The expression of empathy and compassion. We can feel for others, walk in their shoes, and make assumptions about what they might be feeling. This can happen up close or at a distance. When we see images of forest fires in California, for example, we are saddened by the devastation caused to land, animals, and individuals. Empathy and compassion are primal to human existence.
- The need to engage and comprehend reality. Love is an openness to knowing. It is imbued with reason. The more we get to know someone or some being, the more we can say we are expressing genuine love. Our love for a person, animal, or tree is a rational outcome.
Connecting the Dots
The importance of the five cornerstones above is easy to comprehend. Most of us want a positive outcome for ourselves and the planet, for example, but we may be unconsciously or unknowingly choosing to act in a way that does not benefit the world around us.
Making conscientious choices that show love for the people, animals, and plants around us reinforces our natural pro-social tendencies. On the other hand, engaging in anti-social behaviors like overconsumption and waste goes against human nature, inevitably adding stress and having a negative impact on our sense of well-being.
In other words, there is a science behind why doing good feels good, especially when those actions deepen your connection to the world around you.
Below are 6 things that you can do to reclaim your sense of connection and love for the people, places, animals, and things around you.
- Substitute other behaviors for consumption. Go meditate, exercise, take a walk, or enjoy a meal—do not eat-and-run. Slowing down the pace often slows down our consumption of things and reduces waste in our lives.
- Get off your screens and try being intimate and present with a loved one. Model this behavior for your kids. Having long conversations with loved ones is something you should do often.
- Take a break from social media. It can be too easy to dismiss people through the filter and distance created by technology. Try making a phone call to share how you are doing and feeling instead.
- Buy only what you love or need and make sure the items you purchase are made sustainably, or better yet buy a gift for someone else or buy a gift for someone in need. Mark the effect of less buying/saving on your credit card bills and celebrate your success.
- Volunteer in a program to restore nature. The natural world is diminishing around us. Find an organization that you believe in and join their cause, not just online, but by physically helping. This can include volunteering at an animal shelter if cute and cuddly is what you are missing.
- Travel light. Reduce the clutter, including the list of TV shows and movies you are streaming. Try concentrating on reading a book or listening to a podcast that teaches you something new. The act of focusing is good for you.